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June 24, 2011
From the Desk of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton:
Judicial Watch Lawsuit Puts Hastings in Hot Water — Congressional Ethics Investigation Launched
In the wake of the Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal that ultimately forced the disgraced New York Congressman out of office (at least for the time being), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is now the subject of a congressional ethics investigation for a sexual scandal of his own. You will recall that Judicial Watch on March 7, 2011, sued Hastings on behalf of congressional employee Winsome Packer for “unwelcome sexual advances” and “unwelcome touching”.
The Wall Street Journal broke the story this past Wednesday:
A congressional ethics panel is investigating allegations that Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings sexually harassed a member of his staff, according to people familiar with the matter.
The investigation of Mr. Hastings is being conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics investigative arm, and it is at a preliminary stage.
It began at least a month ago after Judicial Watch, a conservative group, filed a lawsuit as the legal counsel for Winsome Packer, a staffer on a commission Mr. Hastings headed. She alleged that she had been sexually harassed by the congressman and that he retaliated when she tried to report it.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will not issue any punishments or reprimands for Hastings. That’s not its role. Instead, the OCE is an independent body that reviews ethics complaints and makes recommendations to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (or the House Ethics Committee). It can take up to 89 days for the OCE to review the charges and make its recommendation.
- NCLR Funding Skyrockets After Obama Hires Its VP
- “Deeply Flawed” Lease Costs Taxpayers $557 Mil
- U.S. To Suspend Countless Deportations
- U.S. Spends $2.5 Bil On “Social Equity” Program
- Bill Clinton’s Sex-Scandal Atty. Defends D.C. Mayor
- $30 Mil To Train Next Generation Of Energy Efficiency Experts
- U.S. Makes $125 Bil In “Improper” Grant Payments
(The OCE resulted from congressional ethics reform a few years ago. You may recall Judicial Watch took a leading role in helping to develop an independent body to review ethics complaints. We have also defended the OCE against attempts to weaken and/or undermine it.)
As the OCE reviews the facts of this case, there should be no doubt that Hastings deserves the attention of the House Ethics Committee. Judicial Watch confirms that Ms. Packer is cooperating with the Office of Congressional Ethics. She and Judicial Watch met with investigators for several hours in May.
I detailed the full breadth of Ms. Packer’s case against Hastings when we filed our lawsuit back in March, but I think it’s worth repeating some of the basic charges as detailed in the complaint. (I do recommend you read it in its entirety to get a full sense of Hastings’ abuse of his office.):
For over two years, from January 2008 through February 19, 2010, Ms. Packer was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings while serving as the Representative of the Commission to the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although Ms. Packer repeatedly rejected Mr. Hastings’ sexual attention and repeatedly complained about the harassment to the Commission Staff Director, Fred Turner, Mr. Hastings refused to stop sexually harassing her. Rather, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner began to retaliate against Ms. Packer—including making threats of termination—because she continued to object to Mr. Hastings’ conduct. Ms. Packer was particularly vulnerable to such threats because she was a Republican working for the Democratically-controlled Commission, a point that both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner used to threaten and intimidate her. Eventually, the emotional distress, anxiety, and humiliation caused by the sexual harassment and retaliation caused Ms. Packer to suffer severe health problems and forced her to leave her prestigious position.
According to our complaint, “Mr. Hastings’ intention was crystal clear: he was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
Hastings, of course, is flatly denying the charges made in our lawsuit. Rather than accepting responsibility for his behavior, Hastings has instead chosen to take the “Clinton approach” and fight for his position of power.
“In a race with a lie, the truth always wins,” Hastings said back in March when we filed the lawsuit. Let’s hope he’s right.
National Council of La Raza Funding Skyrockets after Obama Hires Its VP
If you’ve read this space for any length of time, you have seen plenty of evidence of the Obama administration’s hostility to existing immigration law, from supporting illegal alien sanctuary cities, to suspending the deportations of illegal alien criminals, to the infamous Obama administration memo outlining “administrative” ways to bypass Congress and enact illegal alien amnesty.
But if you needed more convincing, just follow the money trail. As first reported last week by our own Corruption Chronicles blogger Irene Garcia:
A Judicial Watch investigation reveals that federal funding for a Mexican La Raza group that for years has raked in millions of taxpayer dollars has skyrocketed since one of its former top officials (Cecelia Muñoz) got a job in the Obama White House. [Muñoz currently serves as Obama’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.]
How high has the funding skyrocketed? Government cash infusions to the radical Chicano organization, known as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), almost tripled the year Muñoz joined the White House, from $4.1 million to $11 million!
According to Irene’s report, the funding came from a variety of sources within the Obama administration:
Not surprisingly, a big chunk of the money (60%) came from the Department of Labor, which is headed by a former California congresswoman (Hilda Solis) with close ties to the La Raza movement. Since Obama named her Labor Secretary, Solis has launched a nationwide campaign to protect illegal immigrant workers in the U.S. Just this week Solis penned declarations with Guatemala and Nicaragua to preserve the rights of their migrants.
The NCLR also received additional taxpayer dollars from other federal agencies in 2010, the JW probe found. The Department of Housing and Urban Development doled out $2.5 million for housing counseling, the Department of Education contributed nearly $800,000 and the Centers for Disease Control a quarter of a million.
Additionally, NCLR affiliates nationwide raked in tens of millions of government grant and recovery dollars last year thanks to the Muñoz factor. An offshoot called Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC) saw its federal funding nearly double to $18.3 million following Muñoz’ appointment.
A social service and legal assistance organization (Ayuda Inc.) that didn’t receive any federal funding between 2005 and 2008 got $600,000 in 2009 and $548,000 in 2010 from the Department of Justice. The group provides immigration law services and guarantees confidentiality to assure illegal aliens that they won’t be reported to authorities.
And what types of projects are your tax dollars likely to fund at the National Council of La Raza (translated: “The National Council of The Race”)? In short, this racist organization stands for everything Judicial Watch fights against — discounted tuition for illegal aliens, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, illegal alien sanctuary policies. You name it.
But when you dig a little deeper, the truth about this organization is even more disturbing and dangerous.
The National Council of La Raza serves as the public relations front organization for the radical Mexican reconquista movement, which seeks to conquer the American Southwest and return it to Mexico. This is no joke.
In fact, check out this special report we wrote about a Mexican separatist charter school funded by the NCLR. It’s called Academia Semillas Del Pueblo (Seeds of the People Academy). And this is what the principal of the school had to say about his “educational” objectives:
We don’t necessarily want to go to White schools. What we want to do is teach ourselves, teach our children the way we have of teaching. We don’t want to drink from a White water fountain, we have our own wells and our natural reservoirs and our way of collecting rain in our aqueducts… Ultimately the White way, the American way, the neo liberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction…
And here’s a description of the school’s “United States History and Geography” class for 8th graders:
A People’s history of Expansion and Conflict – A thematic survey of American politics, society, culture and political economy; Emphasis throughout on the nations the U.S. usurped, invaded and dominated; Connections between historical rise of capitalism and imperialism with modern political economy and global social relations.
This type of school program may be a good thematic fit for the president, who immediately after assuming the White House went on an international apology tour and said he doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism. But do we want our tax dollars supporting this kind of nonsense?
Now, to be fair, this organization has for a long-time had friends in high places in both political parties and enough pull to secure speeches from such political heavyweights as Hillary Clinton and former Bush advisor Karl Rove. But now, with Cecilia Munoz pulling the levers inside the Obama White House, the organization is primed to play a significant role in pushing the Obama amnesty agenda nationwide through its vast network of Latino organizations.
Munoz, for her part, previously served as the NCLR’s senior vice president where, as Irene noted, she “supervised all legislative and advocacy activities on the state and local levels” and “was heavily involved in the congressional immigration battles that took place in the George W. Bush Administration.” She held that position until President Obama issued one of his numerous “ethics waivers” — because her appointment violated Obama’s ethics rules that would have prevented Munoz from working on matters concerning La Raza — allowing her to be brought onto the Obama White House team.
What a valuable “ethics waiver” that turned out to be. And our investigation will continue.
JW Forces Senate Ethics Committee to Clarify Travel Cash Rules
According to Senate rules Members of the U.S. Senate can neither simply “keep the change” and pocket the unused portions of their travel per diems nor use them to buy gifts for campaign donors. That seems like common sense to me. These per diems, after all, are paid for by the taxpayers. Judicial Watch filed an ethics complaint with the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics in March 2010 after press reports documented widespread abuse of travel per diems by individual Members.
JW’s efforts appear to have paid off…at least in part.
On June 3, 2011, the Senate Ethics Committee sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to all U.S. Senators and staff to make certain they “understand and adhere to the rules on unused per diem,” following our complaint. The Senate Ethics Committee refused, however, to hold accountable individual Members of Congress referenced in press reports documenting per diem abuse.
According to a June 8, 2011, Senate Ethics Committee letter to Judicial Watch:
…based upon review of the information you have provided, it appears that your complaint lacks merit and further Committee action is not appropriate with respect to this matter. The Committee, however, has recently circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter to ensure that all Members and staff, especially those who are new to the Senate, understand and adhere to the rules on unused per diem. [Emphasis added]
(I find it difficult to understand how the Committee can in one breath say there’s nothing to investigate regarding the per diem scandal and then in the next indicate that it had taken action to address the issue.)
Now, here’s an excerpt from the “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the Ethics Committee stating the obvious:
There has been recent media attention regarding the use of foreign travel per diem by Members and staff of the Senate. We want to make sure that you and your staffs know that any unused portion of your foreign travel per diem must be returned to the United States Treasury after you return home.
The letter was signed by Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) [a Member of our Washington’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list for 2011.]) and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Senators Boxer and Isakson described the Senate rules regarding per diems and offered to provide copies of the State Department’s Official Foreign Travel Guide for the U.S. Congress for Members who are still “confused.”
As I mentioned, Judicial Watch was on this per diem scandal over a year ago. We filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee on March 31, 2010, (and hit the House Ethics Committee as well) following a March 2, 2010, Wall Street Journal article which described the abuses:
Congress has no system for tracking how the cash payments, called per diems, are being spent. Lawmakers aren’t required to keep receipts and there are no public records. In the past two years, hundreds of lawmakers spent a total of 5,300 days visiting 130 foreign countries on taxpayer-funded trips, according to congressional travel records.
With regard to how Members of Congress may have misappropriated the funds, according to the article: “Sometimes they give it away; sometimes they pocket it. Many lawmakers said they didn’t know the rules for repayment.”
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), The Wall Street Journal notes, admitted that it’s “fairly standard” policy for lawmakers to use the leftover money “for shopping or to buy souvenirs to bring back to constituents.”
Personally I find ridiculous the notion that Members of Congress simply did not realize pocketing per diems is a no-no. First off, it’s basic commons sense. And secondly, this behavior is in violation of explicit House and Senate rules governing the reimbursement of travel expenses. For example, here is the Senate rule currently on the books regarding per diems, as articulated in the Ethics Committee letter:
A per diem allowance provided a Member, officer, or employee in connection with foreign travel shall be used solely for lodging, food, and related expenses and it is the responsibility of the Member, officer, or employee receiving such an allowance to return to the United States Government that portion of the allowance received which is not actually used for necessary lodging, food, and related expenses.
Do you see anything perplexing or unclear about this language? I’m guessing not. But at least now, with this recent communication from the Senate Ethics Committee, there can be no more claims of “confusion” by Members of the U.S. Senate. The case has been made to every single Member due to Judicial Watch’s actions in the matter.
We are pleased that the Senate Ethics Committee has responded to our call to educate Members on their responsibilities to the U.S. taxpayers and the rule of law regarding these per diems. But what a sad story that United States Senators need to be reminded that they can’t keep taxpayer cash for their own personal use.
And regarding the obvious per diem abuses by Members of the U.S. Senate, we believe a more thorough investigation is warranted. The Senate Ethics Committee shouldn’t give a pass to Members to misappropriated taxpayer funds, whether they are merely “confused” or purposely ignoring the policy for their own personal gain.
Until next week…
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